Just slug it out like the boys: The first serious attempt at tackling the issue brings us to an excellent Simpsons episode - girls just want to have sums! I always take the Simpsons seriously, and they seem to really care about education. If you know the episode, you can skip the next two paragraphs.
In this episode, Principal Skinner lets fly that he thinks girls are more likely to struggle with maths and science. He gets booed and, eventually, fired. The new principal, a feminist, divides the campus into two, so the boys do not drown out the girls with their loud voices.
In the girls' half of the campus, a different sort of maths is taught. One which is unlike that of men - something to be worked out and attacked. Instead, maths becomes something that engages the senses. Lisa gets fed up and disguises herself as a boy so she can learn "real math" . When she wins the school award for maths, she reveals herself to prove that girls are just as good as boys, but Bart declares: "The only reason Lisa won is because she learned to think like a boy! I turned her into a burping, farting, bullying math machine!"
The episode seems to ridicule the view that maths is defined in a way that has suited males over the ages. Maths is what it is, and everyone needs to learn it in the same way. I am very interested in your reading of this episode, as mine is not particularly thought out!
Encourage the parents to enrol them in British single-sex schools! An article in Melbourne's Herald Sun reports that girls who graduate from British single-sex schools earn 10% more than those who graduate from mixed schools. This was put down to the fact that they were more likely to take subjects such as Physics. I am really skeptical about such research as it compares means and masks a lot of important data such as whether the comparison was made between equally endowed schools.
Teachers should vary their instruction and assessment methods: The Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers put out a "national statement on girls and mathematics" in 1990. In it, they suggest that teachers value certain modes of learning which appeal more to girls. Teachers should "make more extensive use of discussion methods, small group collaborative work and open-ended investigations". Assessment should "include projects, presentations, essays" etc...
I use these things (apart from essays) in my practice, however I have observed that boys tended to dominate group work and presentations when on a teaching round at a mixed school. There is no denying that I have seen my students' eyes light up whenever we have done something creative, involving the use of colours and patterns.
Teachers should use cues which make students concentrate on their strengths rather than gender: My thesis supervisor sent an email to his research group with a blurb from an American dude called "Richard Morin [Pew Research Center]". In it, he points out that research has shown that "women score much lower on math tests if they are first asked unrelated questions about gender issues. The phenomenon is known as 'stereotype threat'". This has led two other dudes, Matthew S. McGlone of Texas Uni and Joshua Aronson of New York University to conduct an interesting experiment.
They surveyed 90 college students, half of each gender. A third of them were asked why they chose to study at a private liberal arts college. "The goal was [to] nudge these young women and men into thinking how smart and accomplished they were." This group exhibited the least variance on a visual-spatial ability test which they took immediately after the survey.
You make up your mind. I will appreciate any input from readers on this topic.
Technorati tags: Education Teaching Mathematics